Tuesday, April 29, 2014

So it begins... a salute to Mr. Karate.

Hello friends, welcome to the first fighting game on my new blog. This entry is actually a successor to the Coloring Perception series that I ran on 1UP and Capcom-Unity. If you remember in that series I was talking about good minority character designs and great villain designs and how the two intersected through the character Zumbi Azul. I had mentioned that the character would have been in my personal top-3 favorite fighting game bosses behind Gouki but ahead of Silber. Some of my friends were wondering where in that list I would have ranked Mr. Karate. I think he would have been number 5 on the list maybe number 6. Number 4 would probably have been Sagat but I haven't made up my mind yet and written the definitive top-10 fighting game bosses, although that might be fodder for a series on the new blog when I think about it. Why did Mr. Karate rank so low on my list? Actually he didn't rank low at all. Stop and think about how many fighting games have been released in the past 30 years. Any boss that ranks in the top 10 has staying power. For the SNK universe nobody has more staying power than Takuma Sakazaki, Mr. Karate himself.

The character originally appeared in 1992 as the main villain in the Art of Fighting. He was the enforcer for Geese Howard, the main villain from the Fatal Fury series. He was forced to serve as a hit man because Geese had threatened the lives of his children. Mr. Big, the second in command for Howard had kidnapped Yuri Sakazaki, the young daughter of Takuma in order to ensure that he would not rebel. His son Ryo and student Robert Garcia chased after the kidnappers all throughout Southtown until the final confrontation. Once the true identity of Mr. Karate was revealed and after Yuri was safe he swore that he would make amends. In the Art of Fighting 2 he ditched the mask and went on a vendetta against Geese and his fighters. I think the biggest impact that the character had within the King of Fighters universe was the legacy he had built. Takuma was one of the characters that had been around since the days of the previous generation of masters. People like Tung Fu Rue and Lee Gakuso were his mentors and contemporaries. Their students and children would have been rivals for the Sakazaki children. Sakazaki was written as a nod to Masusatsu Oyama, the founder of Kyokushin or Ultimate Truth karate. Takuma's version was known as Kyokugen or Extreme Utmost Limit karate.



The first Kyokushin karate school in Southtown was a featured stage in the Art of Fighting 2. The artists and designers never forgot that stage and 16 years later a new version was introduced in the King of Fighters XIII. On one wall there were several posters dedicated to the school. One of those posters was in honor of the legend of the founder. It depicted Takuma delivering a killing blow to the head of a bull. It was actually a very metaphysical poster because it was based on a movie poster of Sonny Chiba starring as the "Karate Bull Fighter" that poster was in itself a recreation of the photographs of Oyama actually killing a bull from his live demonstrations.

 

In essence the character of Takuma Sakazaki was based in part of the actual legend of Mas Oyama plus the dramatized retelling of his life in the Chiba films. In the games Takuma would make boastful statements meant to inspire his family and students but often came off as nonsensical. It was as if the elder Sakazaki master had fallen in love with his own legend. He didn't realize that Ryo and Robert had become championship fighters in their own right. They were the characters that gamers looked up to in the SNK titles. Takuma had been unwilling to let go of his share of the limelight. In his mind he still saw himself the same ruggedly handsome person that he was when he starred in the classic karate films so many years earlier. The artists at SNK always made sure to present Takuma as a very confident person with a main full of perfectly sculpted hair. Takuma was meant to have the movie star charisma and looks of Chiba rather than the balding heavy-set man that Oyama became in his later years.



Takuma did have one thing going for him in the games and in canon that neither Robert, Ryo or Yuri had in their favor. The senior Sakazaki was the only true master of Kyokugen, including its most powerful strikes and special moves. For example his all-powerful chop was part of his ultimate strike, the Biruto Appar. This was the strike that used to kill bulls and did tremendous damage to people as well. At the peak of his abilities Mas Oyama had put on many breaking demonstrations all over the world. He would break blocks, bricks, stones and even chop the necks off of bottles. These breaking demonstrations were recreated as bonus stages in the original Street Fighter and the bottle cut specifically in the Art of Fighting. Oyama had earned the nickname Godhand because he could defeat most challengers with a single strike. Imagine the actual martial arts master using his knife hand to break the necks of bulls as easily if he were chopping wood, a person like that would certainly make for an imposing video game character.



The thing that harmed Takuma, at least in terms of ranking him higher on my list of notable fighting game villains, was the lack of consistency that SNK used when presenting him. In canon the user was getting older and often let the fighting up to his children and students. However when his ego felt challenged he would once again enter the King of Fighters tournaments. He would then drop out for a few years because of injuries. This made the character sympathetic and somewhat believable. The shelf life of a fighter past their prime was almost nonexistent. When it came to great villains they could not and should not have had any weaknesses. That was where Mr. Karate came in. He was the other side of Takuma, the dark side with a violent past. Mr. Karate never tired, never got injured and only seemed to come back stronger than before at each encounter. Mr. Karate was the persona, the "Godhand" that really made the senior Sakazaki an interesting character and a great boss design.

 

It was the legacy that Mr. Karate left behind that really made me appreciate the character and the work that the SNK design team put into him. We shall look at this in the next blog.

5 comments:

  1. Way to go Big Mex even with my limited dealings with SNK games I had gotten from the intro of SvC chaos that Mr Karate was on a equivalent level with Akuma/ Gouki.

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    1. good eye Wayne, you'll see a familiar face in the next blog.

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  2. Nice to see you back blogging, bro. Maybe I should start blogging again, I've been thinking about doing weekly reviews of Pinball Arcade tables.

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    1. any excuse to start writing again is a good excuse.

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  3. May as well do that. I'll probably get into that within the next week or so. Please follow my blog in the meantime.

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